Pentecostalism’s Los Angeles Roots Go Global

USC College’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture launches $6.9 million Pentecostal and Charismatic Research Initiative
Susan Andrews

While in Manila having dinner, Don Miller engaged in a conversation that sparked an idea that would take him and Tetsunao Yamamori (of Food for the Hungry, an international aid organization) to 20 countries in the global South. The duo traveled to these countries to research global Pentecostalism and found, to their surprise, that evangelism and social ministry co-exist and flourish within this exponentially growing religion.

And now, Miller, executive director of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture within USC College, has established the Pentecostal and Charismatic Research Initiative (PRCI) funded by a $6.9 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

The initiative is two-fold and will foster innovative social science research in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union, by providing up to $3.5 million in grants to regional centers and individual scholars. PCRI will also create scholarly resources, including a digital archive, and conduct research on Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity in Los Angeles.

“We are interested in understanding why Pentecostalism is growing so rapidly, what impact it is having on society, and how it is different in various cultural settings,” Miller explained. “Our goal is to inspire research partnerships around the globe and fund projects that will shape the discussion for years to come.”

There is no better place for this major research initiative to take place than in Los Angeles, home to people from all over the globe. Miller’s defines Pentecostalism as a complex social movement within Protestant Christianity that began in an abandoned church on Azusa Street during 1906. “There are many strands and strains of Pentecostalism. What I believe catapults its rapid and expansive growth is its warm and vibrant worship service that makes its members feel as if they are part of a larger community — a family,” Miller said.

Miller compares the proliferation of Pentecostalism to that of a grassroots organization. Having turned 100 in 2006, Pentecostalism is now changing within Los Angeles itself. Variations in the practice of Pentecostalism are showing up across the Los Angeles area, having been influenced by indigenous cultures from all over the world. Los Angeles, the exporter, has now become the importer by way of immigrant communities from Latin America, Asia and other parts of the world.

The implications of Pentecostalism and charismatic Christianity with its 500 million worldwide adherents are many and include international politics and interactions among religious groups.

Through a competitive process, the initiative will award grants to seven regional centers and 15 individual scholars or small research teams. Comparative research projects are also eligible, including projects that explore the connections between Western countries and one or more of the four regions. “Rigorous methodology will be an integral part of this research initiative,” Miller added.

The full request for proposals and eligibility requirements are available at

This spring Don Miller will pack his suitcase once again and visit 13 different countries to speak with scholars and leaders of research centers in Russia, Croatia, Ukraine, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Costa Rica, Singapore, and the Philippines.

Don Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori are co-authors of Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement.


Read more articles from USC College Magazine’s Spring/Summer 2009 issue.